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‘Media U’ – Inside Higher Ed

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Authors discuss their new book about viewing colleges and universities as media institutions focused on winning over audiences.

Most people think of colleges and universities as primarily educational institutions. But a new book says that, for a long time, they have been “media institutions,” focused on appealing to different audiences. The book extends this view far beyond traditional public relations operations or even new media strategies, but says that the idea of colleges as media institutions is much more ingrained than people typically see. The book is Media U: How the Need to Win Audiences Has Shaped Higher Education (Columbia University Press). The authors are Mark Garrett Cooper, professor of film and media studies at the University of South Carolina, and John Marx, professor of English at the University of California, Davis. They responded via email to questions about their book.

Q: What first gave you the idea of looking at colleges and universities as media institutions? What is a media institution?

A: The idea came out of our frustration with repeated declarations of a crisis in the humanities. Crisis talk so often assumes that a declining audience rightfully belongs to “us” while also revealing a stubborn narrowness when it comes to defining who “us” is, exactly. With sad predictability, essays defending “the humanities” turn out to be all about the aggrieved writer’s home discipline.

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